With the recent pandemic and major changes to our everyday way of life, we have been thinking about ways to experience meaning, purpose, and positive emotions in our daily activities. This has led us to do some further reading in the area of Positive Psychology - a relatively new and growing field of psychology. Positive Psychology can be defined as the study of “the good life” - or aspects of our experience that help build a life worth living. Martin Seligman, who is considered one of the founders of Positive Psychology, summarizes it as the
"scientific study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive."
Neil Pasricha, author of The Happiness Equation talks about a common misconception that gets in the way of experiencing happiness, something we can agree we all want to feel. He said for most of us, there is the belief that: Great work → Big Success → Be Happy (which basically translates to if I work hard, I will get straight A's, and be happy). However, he shared that research actually revealed the opposite: Be Happy → Great Work → Big Success (we must be happy first, before we can do great work or be successful - whatever that means for you!) This may be completely counterintuitive to what you know and have been told. You might not agree - and that’s okay! You don’t have to agree with it to implement some of the practices to start training your brain to be happier.
In his book, Neil shares seven practices he found through his research that we can use to begin the process of retraining our brains to experience more happiness - to “be happy first”. He refers to these seven practices as “The Big 7” and suggests that engaging in just one of these practices every day for two weeks can lead to increased levels of happiness.
- Three Walks
- Half an hour of brisk walking 3 times a week improves happiness; simply put, more physically active people experience more positive mood states.
- The 20 Minute Replay
- Writing about a positive experience that you had (could be today, could be a year ago) improves happiness. How? As you write about it, you are reliving the experience in your mind.
- Random Acts of Kindness
- Pretty straight-forward - carrying out an act of kindness (Neil suggests five a week) can improve overall happiness.
- A Complete Unplug
- Turning off your devices at the end of the day, disconnecting, turning off the TV. This one feels especially important in our current world, as many of us are spending much more time “connected” than we are used to
- Hit Flow
- Get completely absorbed in what you are doing; get into a groove, your zone. This is not an easy task and requires a high degree of skill. Check out the book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for more on this.
- Two-minute Meditations
- Studies have shown that consistent meditation can rewire our brains and raise overall levels of happiness. Consider the use of an app if you are new to meditation, such as Calm or Headspace.
- Five Gratitudes
- Start a weekly gratitude practice, writing down events, experiences, things that made you grateful from the past week. You might like the practice so much that you start doing it daily!
What can you commit to doing just once a day for two weeks in order to “be happy first”?